LGBTQ+ People Are Fleeing Red States, And Some Feel It's The Wrong Move

Women are leaving in droves too, and it's already causing all sorts of problems.

Women, LGBTQ community, moving from red to blue states mattjeacock, Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir. miljko, filadendron, Ilya Mitskavets, StefaNikolic, cottonbro studio, TONL | Canva

In America, many of us are so primed to think of government legislation in strictly ideological terms that it can be easy to remember that laws have consequences — and not just on the people the laws actually target. 

If recent trends continue, however, America is about to learn some harsh lessons as the impacts of our country's recent waves of legislation begin to be impossible to ignore.

Women and LGBTQ+ people are fleeing red states because of right-wing legislation.

The past few years have seen an unprecedented wave of right-wing laws targeting LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2023 had already seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans bills just by the month of May. And since Roe v. Wade's June 2022 overturn, 22 states have implemented some form of abortion ban. Many such bans make life-saving medical interventions for events like miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies legally dubious.


Accordingly, women and queer people who are able to do so — those who have resources, job prospects, education credentials, etc — have begun fleeing red states in statistically significant numbers.

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Most conservatives of course cheer these legislative wins as taking a principled stand for a moral high ground, and many will cheer the impact they're having on driving LGBTQ+ and pro-choice people from their states. 

But government and law are, and never have been, so simple and cut-and-dried, as many states are now learning the hard way. 

Red states are facing a shortage of LGBTQ+ medical specialists.

A gay Louisiana pediatric heart surgeon is fleeing because of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, leaving just two such specialists in the entire state. 

Dr. Jake Kleinmahon and his husband Tom planned to make New Orleans their home for life after returning there in 2018, especially since Louisiana has a dearth of doctors in Kleinmahon's speciality, pediatric cardiology. But recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Louisiana inspired by Republican Florida Governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis' now infamous so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill left Kleinmahon and his husband feeling they would be unable to protect their children from bigotry. 


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Much like Florida's draconian bill, Louisiana's proposed, and thankfully vetoed, copycat legislation, would have banned discussion of LGBTQ+ or gender identity in schools, but did not define what exactly constitutes "discussion." This left Kleinmahon and his husband rattled by the possibility that "if our kids... were made fun of because they had two dads, a teacher would not have been able to step in."

So, they are decamping to New York where Kleinmahon has found a new job and where state laws and government are vastly more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, leaving Louisiana's health system with just two pediatric heart surgeons for the entire state. 


Kleinmahon and his family are far from alone. Data compiled by Polling for Progress shows that more than a quarter of LGBTQ+ people overall and 43% of transgender people are considering fleeing their state because of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Many already have done so, with 8% of those 18-24 and 9% of those over the age of 65 already finding new homes.

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Similarly, women fleeing red states' anti-abortion legislation is fueling a shortage of OB/GYN healthcare providers.

As a recent New York Times article revealed, red states with some of the most draconian anti-abortion laws in the country like Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee are seeing large numbers of obstetricians, gynecologists and specialists who focus on high-risk pregnancies flee to states with more reasonable approaches to women's healthcare, afraid they will be sued — or worse — simply for doing their jobs.

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Idaho's laws, for example, provide for doctors to be imprisoned for violating its bans on abortion, which do contain exceptions for certain instances of rape and incest or for certain life-threatening complications in a pregant mother. But those exceptions, and what constitutes a violation, have been defined not by scientists and healthcare providers making such medical decisions, but by legislators motivated by ideological beliefs.


So, many doctors have decided not to take the chance, like one obstetrician who told the Times she relocated to Colorado because in Idaho, "I was finding that I felt very anxious being on the labor unit, just not knowing if somebody else was going to second-guess my decisions."

Much like gender-affirming care bans have done for other types of medical care, these laws and the exodus they have inspired have ended up eroding the reproductive healthcare system in Idaho as a whole. As Dr. Stella Dantas of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists put it to the Times, "This isn't an issue about abortion... When you restrict access to care that is based in science, that everybody should have access to — that has a ripple effect."

In a bitter twist that shouldn't be difficult to understand, by doing everything they can to ensure abortions don't happen, supposedly in service of saving babies' lives, Idaho conservatives have all but ensured that more babies, as well as mothers, will needlessly die due to a failing reproductive healthcare system.

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Some think fleeing red states is the wrong answer, however, and just plays into conservatives' hands.

After Ari Drenen, a reporter covering LGBTQ+ news for Media Matters for America, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, about the problem of queer people and others fleeing red states because of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion legislation, her comments were flooded with queer people and medical professionals saying they'd done just that.

But there were also several who said they thought this was the wrong approach entirely. "Thing is," one user wrote, "that plays into the right-wing's hands. It rids them of the people who would vote against them in elections." Another wrote that such population shifts "is the GOP goal."

Both claims are all but certainly true — and the liberal-minded "brain drain" Drenen mentions impacting red states will all but surely impact those states' politics in years to come. That's unfortunate.

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But it's not LGBTQ+ people's or women's jobs to put their and their families' lives on the line to fight the legislation endangering them.

To suggest as such misses the point in a frankly rather macabre way. It's like saying you have a duty to stay inside your burning house because some people don't even have houses. 

Rather than criticizing victims of legislation for just trying to live their lives in peace and safety, people concerned with red-state politics should instead prevail upon politicians to maybe do something about the unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive health.

Let us never forget Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris' response when presented with many liberals' feelings that Democrats should "do something now" about the overturn of Roe v Wade and reproductive rights: "Do what now?"

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And as for LGBTQ+ people, Data for Progress' survey tellingly also found that a staggering majority of queer people feel that politicians don't care what they think, and 75% of LGBTQ+ Democrats feel the Party isn't doing enough to protect their rights. 

So if you're worried about Democrats losing even bigger due to people fleeing red states because they're afraid for their lives, well... maybe you should go yell at the Democrats about it. Because at the end of the day, Republicans are just doing what they've been vowing they would do for nearly 50 years. It's Democrats who have just let them do it, and it's not the job of the people they've allowed to be thrown to the wolves to fix it.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.